Labor’s primary vote has hit 40% and the two-party preferred gap between the major parties has vanished, leaving them balanced 50-50% less than three weeks from polling day, a new poll from Essential Research reveals.

Labor’s 1 point increase to 40% is the first time the government has hit that level since February 2011, when former prime minister Julia Gillard’s announcement of a carbon pricing scheme began her downward spiral.

However, the Coalition has also picked up a point on its primary vote to sit at 44%. The increases appear to have come at the expense of the minor parties and independents, which are down from 10% to 8%; the Greens remain on 8%.

The 40% mark is a crucial level below which Labor will struggle to win without a huge assist from the Greens, a possibility that now appears to be remote. For a time it looked like Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s boost to Labor’s vote had topped out below 40%, but despite media claims that his campaign is flagging, Rudd appears to have found some extra juice in the tank.

The number of voters saying they may yet change their mind has fallen in the last fortnight from 21% to 17%, but Greens and minor party voters continue to be much more likely than major party voters to say they may change their minds.

And with News Corporation newspapers engaged in an all-out war on Labor, voters have identified the company’s publications as the least trustworthy media outlets for election coverage. The Telegraph is the country’s least trusted outlet, with 28% of New South Wales voters having no trust at all in it. Some 26% of Victorians have no trust at all in the Herald Sun and 21% of Queenslanders don’t trust The Courier-Mail.

The most trusted outlets are ABC TV — 22% of voters have a lot of trust in it and 36% have some trust in it. Compared to that 58% trust level, SBS TV scores 52%, ABC radio 49%, The Age (Victorian voters) 42% and The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW voters) scoring 39%. The Australian was the least-worst of the News Corp publications, with 31% of voters having some trust in it and 16% having no trust at all.

Essential also shows that, two full weeks into the campaign, it has failed to shift many respondents’ voting intentions. Just 6% so far say they have changed their minds about which party to vote for, with Greens voters more likely to say they’ve changed their minds.

And while the campaign might have been expected to widen voters’ sense of the differences between the parties, a comparison on party attributes shows voters think the parties are broadly similar. Labor is seen as far more “divided” than the Liberals (66% to 31%) and the Liberals are seen much more as too close to business and financial interests (60% to 31%). But both score about the same on “understands the problems facing Australia”, “moderate”, “has a good team of leaders”, “trustworthy” (30% each) and “will promise anything to win votes” (65% each). Labor also leads on “good policies” by 8 points, while the Coalition leads by 7 points on “clear about what they stand for”.

Essential Research is a part of Essential Media Communications (EMC). EM Advertising, a business wholly owned by EMC, is contracted by the ALP to provide advertising for the federal election campaign. Directors, staff and contractors working on the EM Advertising business have no involvement in the production of the Essential Report. Your Source manages Essential’s online research panel. Essential Research and Your Source are ISO accredited market research companies.

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Peter Fray
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